CAIRO -- An Egyptian court on Monday ordered the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and the confiscation of its assets, sharply escalating a broad crackdown on the group in the three months since the military ousted its ally, Mohamed Morsi, from the presidency.
The court ruling formalizes the suppression of the group, and comes after mass shootings of more than 1,000 pro-Morsi demonstrators and the arrest of thousands of Brotherhood members and almost all of the group's leaders. Even before Mr. Morsi was overthrown, the police watched idly as a crowd of anti-Brotherhood protesters methodically burned down its gleaming headquarters, capping weeks of attacks on its officers around the country.
The Brotherhood, Egypt's mainstream Islamist group, sponsored the political party that won the most votes in recent elections. So the court's formal prohibition of the Brotherhood makes it harder for the new government appointed by Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi to fulfill its promises of a new, inclusive democratic process -- one that would be open even to Mr. Morsi's Islamist supporters. Instead, the ruling pushes the Brotherhood back underground, where it was for most of its 85-year history before the 2011 revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak allowed the group to operate in the open.
The decision was issued by the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters. Some Islamist lawyers questioned the court's jurisdiction, and vowed to appeal. The court ordered that all the Brotherhood's assets, including real estate it owned or leased, be held in trust until the appeals were resolved.
But the appeals seemed unlikely to settle the matter, because the Brotherhood faces similar litigation in other jurisdictions as well.
Monday's ruling addressed a lawsuit filed by the leftist party Tagammu, which accused the Brotherhood of being a terrorist organization and of "exploiting religion in political slogans." Laying out its decision, the court reached back to the Brotherhood's founding in 1928, when Egypt was ruled by a British-backed monarchy, and argued that the organization had always used religion as a cover for its political goals.
The state newspaper Al Ahram gave its own rationale for the ban, saying Monday that since winning power at the polls the Brotherhood had "violated the rights of the citizens, who found only oppression and arrogance during their reign" until the public had risen up to protest "under the protection of the armed forces; the sword of the homeland inseparable from their people in the confrontation with an unjust regime."
The court's ruling, which banned "all activities" organized, sponsored or financed by the Islamist group, was unexpectedly sweeping.
The Brotherhood, which began as a social and religious revival movement, was tacitly tolerated for years despite being outlawed, growing into Egypt's largest philanthropic organization, with a national network of clinics, schools and other charities helping to provide a partial social safety net below the rickety Egyptian state.
It sponsored legislative candidates, who formed a minority bloc in Parliament for more than 20 years, and in 2011 spun off a closely allied but ostensibly autonomous political unit, the Freedom and Justice Party. The party won nearly half the seats in Egypt's first parliamentary election after Mr. Mubarak's overthrow, and its candidate, Mr. Morsi, won about a quarter of the vote in the first round of the presidential race; he later won a runoff.
More than a million dues-paying members are believed to attend weekly local Brotherhood meetings, according to scholars who study the group, and hundreds of thousands of "sisters" belong to its women's auxiliary.
If enforced, the court's ruling would prohibit all of those meetings and functions, eradicating a major component of Egyptian civil society.
Ibrahim Moneir, a Brotherhood official who is still at large, called the ruling "totalitarian." In an interview with a satellite news channel, he said the group would survive "with God's help, not by the orders of Sisi's judiciary."
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.